Berkeley to charge 25 cents for disposable coffee cups with the goal of zero waste

Image 1 of 2

The Berkeley city council unanimously voted to pass a Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction ordinance on Tuesday, which means restaurants, cafes and other businesses will be forced to charge customers 25 cents for each disposable cup.

Customers can avoid paying the extra fee if they bring their own cup.

The ordinance also requires all dine-in foodware to be reusable, and takeout foodware to be compostable by January 2020. So, if you're dining in at McDonald's, for example, the restaurant will have to provide a real fork or spoon, not a plastic one.

City leaders hope the proposal can help Berkeley in its efforts to achieve zero waste.  

In a press release, the city said it if passes, this ordinance would become the most ambitious, comprehensive legislation to reduce throw-away foodware in the United States and would take effect next year.

“With the collapse of the overseas recycling market and an influx of food- and beverage-related litter on our streets and in our waterways, waiting is no longer an option,” said Berkeley Councilmember Sophie Hahn, the author of the legislation. “Many Berkeley restaurants have already switched to compostable to-go ware and reusables for dining-in and we’re asking all food vendors to follow their visionary example. Recycling is no longer a solution – if we want to save the planet, it’s time to reduce, reuse and compost.”

Berkeley estimates 40 million disposable cups are discarded in its city each year ending up as litter, landfill and in storm drains, often not recyclable. 

"It's not a problem we can recycle our way out of. We have to find ways to reduce it," said Martin Bourque with the Ecology Center. "It's absurd. Why do we all need a cup every day?" 

The ordinance is supported by a coalition of over 1,000 local, national, and international organizations participating in the Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) global movement including UpStream, The Story of Stuff Project, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Plastic Pollution Coalition, and Surfrider Foundation. 

Some restaurants have reservations. 

"The more we charge for a cup of coffee, the less people are going to be willing to go out and spend money on a cup of coffee," said Max Harris from Saul's Restaurant and Diner. Harris supports environmental goals, but worries about profit margins, which are already thin. "In the end, I thing that cost will be passed on to the consumer, who hopefully understands and is supportive of this initiative."